Santa Monica 50K Race Report

Why are all the fun races hard?

Santa Monica was supposed to be my “easy” race – Shacky promised. But it poured so torrentially and the wind was so fierce that many dropped out.

The day started with a few technical difficulties. We confused the start time for 7 a.m. when it was really 8:30, so we were sitting around for a while wondering where everybody was. Then the rains started. At first it was just a drizzle, but it was way too cold for my tropical blood so I started piling on the layers and even borrowed Shacky’s jacket.

By the time the pre-race announcements rolled around, I was bundled up like snowman. My sponsor on the other hand, Pat Sweeney, was basically naked in a tutu. He thought the reason I was cold was because I had shaved my legs. Pat has thick fur.

The race began and within minutes I had to stop and peel off two of my three layers. A few minutes after that both my shoelaces came undone. Shacky waited for me.

The trail was so narrow that we had to wait for a break in the human chain before we could jump back on to the single track, and many people passed us.

The first loop started off slightly uphill, and I still wanted to run. But when one person walked, we all had to walk. There were very limited spots to pass, and many runners were moving slower because of the weather.

When we finally broke free of the crowd, it was pouring. Mud was starting to form everywhere and the more it rained, the happier Shacky got. He was bounding everywhere and could have easily left me in the mud, but instead waited for my slow ass to share the experience.

I wasn’t as convinced about the weather. It was too hot for my layers and I was thoroughly soaked. I made the mistake of wearing the Neo Trails, which retain water quite impressively. So even where the ground was hard, each step for me was like wadding in a small foot-pool.

About two miles from the end of the first loop, I got stuck behind a runner who was  tiptoe-ing over every puddle and trying not to get mud on her shoes. I looked at her, and then looked at Shacky up ahead. He was jumping through every puddle, caked in mud and smiles. Then I understood.

Trying to run through this weather was miserable. But running IN it was awesome. I decided I wasn’t going to give a crap, picked up the pace, and joined Shacky. That’s when it started getting good.

The rain wasn’t letting up and neither was the wind. But we were running fast enough to keep our cores warm. The second half of the loop was slightly downhill and we bounded through like pros, passing more cautious runners one by one.

Our footing was flawless – it had to be. One misstep or slide and we might have been flying over a cliff or crashing into rocks. Small streams started forming on the trail, and instead of going around them we followed their currents straight downhill, ankle-deep in slush and wet and mud. Some normal people went around.

By the end of the first loop, every inch of me was drenched. And I was happy.

At the first aid station we grabbed a couple of sandwiches and took off for the second loop – starting uphill again. I took the lead this time and Shacky followed. We started seeing some of the leaders finishing their second loop, and kept an eye out for Pat. Soon enough we saw him bounding along in his pink tutu and wished him luck.

At the top of the hill, I was satisfied-tired and very pleased with the trail. But the next stretch wouldn’t be as stimulating.

What followed was a long, winding road. No single track, just a long mud slide. I’m shocked we didn’t fall in this area, because everyone was struggling. I didn’t like the monotony of running such an extended flat section.

Going uphill, I was able to stay warm. But this was a challenge because I couldn’t build any significant speed in the mud. Every mud-step was met with resistance and there were no more striking views of rainy beaches or steep cliffs.

We hit the aid station, grabbed some munchies, and then started feeling cold. We were still on a boring road so there was nothing to do but put our heads down and plow ahead. Then we hit an uphill hike.

The mud had built up with such thickness that with every step, I lost some ground. My feet would slip back in the mud and I had to take extra steps to cover the same distance. It sometimes felt like walking in place.

On top of that, the resistance from the mud was wearing me out. We had been playing in the rain for over three hours, and I was officially tired.

At the top of the hill, it was back to boring long road, and I found myself doing more walking than running which only made me colder. This was my low point. Shacky was patient and encouraging and still waiting for me.

Finally, we hit the single track again and started making our way back downhill. We saw the leaders running on the trials below us and I caught a glimpse of Chris Price, making it look easy. It was the motivation I needed to pick up some speed.

Shacky took off ahead of me, practically flying downhill. I was slower, but happy again. Jitterbugging over the wet rocks and embracing the mud, every once in a while I caught a glimpse of Shacky far ahead of me. He was so clearly in his element that I had to smile.

A few minutes later Shacky was yelling at me across the trail. The rain was coming down too hard for me to hear him, so he just signaled for me to hurry up. I ran down to him to find that he had fallen and wanted to brag about it – his first trail wipeout. His hand and knee were cut and bleeding. I tried to help him wipe up, but he liked it that way. He was quite proud of his accomplishment. Then he took off again.

I picked up the pace and stayed close behind until we reached the bottom of the first loop. From here we could either head back up through the same loop, or call it a day at 30k. I was tempted to continue, but I knew the trail conditions were quickly getting worse and Shacky’s fall made me nervous about a more serious injury, especially since we plan to run 90 miles during Thanksgiving weekend.

We decided it would be wise to save ourselves for the Thanksgiving run and quit while we still felt good. It wasn’t long before Pat crossed the finished line and we enjoyed watching him run in with the fastest tutu-time ever. Glam.

Many thanks to Sarah and volunteers for putting on this great race. Chris Price took first place and it was his birthday!

Thanks to Michelle and Gina for donating their bibs so we could run, and to Pat for catering to my whims and wearing my pink tutu. And many thanks to Shacky for reminding me why I love running in extreme weather and making it fun.

Happy American Thanksgiving! What are you thankful for this year?

I have so many things to be thankful for, it boggles my mind. I’ll be fastpacking for the first time this entire weekend and I’m beyond excited to test my mileage with three days of supplies on my back, sleeping under the stars and exploring my self-sufficiency out in nature. It’s a perfect holiday with the perfect trail buddy.

Only the hard runs are fun.

PCTR Santa Monica Mountains Highlights from Billy Yang on Vimeo.